Retishella's younger sister Seeley is in trouble. The family make a long journey and are thrown into a mystery.
Front cover illustration by Nic Porter.
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Caught up in a tussle with an adult grantuff, Seeley mermaid loses her memory. It has become stuck to a baby grantuff and the only way to get it back is for Seeley to touch it.
The journey to the Marine Agriculture College to meet Seeley's Uncle Nav and find her memory starts quietly enough.But once again, a grand adventure awaits the family and they discover a world where slavery and cruelty are part of every day life.
Exactly one hour later, a knock at the door announced the arrival of Uncle Nav.
“Dinnertime everyone,” he called through the door.
“Hmm, strange…” Seeley’s father mused.
“What is dear?” asked Seeley’s mother absentmindedly.
“Timekeeping never was one of Nav’s virtues.” A further knock at the door interrupted their conversation and they all followed Nav down a series of long corridors to the cafeteria.
“This really is a huge place,” commented Retishella.
“Yes,” answered Nav. “Like many big places of learning it began as a small building, just a couple of rooms. There has been a lot of interest in developing marine agriculture recently, finding new foods and better ways of growing them.”
“Is that what you do here?” asked Retishella.
“What me? Oh yes, yes, that’s one of my many jobs here.” Uncle Nav sounded unsure and Retishella was puzzled.
“What other things do you do here?” she asked.
“Not now, later, later.” replied Uncle Nav sharply. “Here we are”. He flung open two large white double doors and led them all into the cafeteria.
“Wow!” exclaimed Retishella her hair golden yellow with excited curiosity, “what strange caves, such straight walls and high ceilings.”
“It’s not a cave, Retishella,” explained Nav, “there are no caves in this part of the ocean. We made the walls ourselves; using blocks of rock we carved out of the seabed.”
“What about the caves we’re staying in, you know, where the students live?” asked Retishella.
“Little maid,” answered Uncle Nav in an irritated voice, “You are too young of course to have realised that they are artificial caves. We made them too.”
“It’s OK Uncle Nav,” said Retishella gently, trying not to seem disrespectful to an adult, “I can understand things you know.” For a moment Retishella thought she saw a glimmer of a mocking smile from Uncle Nav before it was replaced with his usual stern, haughty look.
“Where’s Seeley?” interrupted Retshella’s mother, looking around for her missing merchild.
“She was with us a moment ago in the corridor,” replied Retishella. “I’ll see if she’s still there.”
Retishella slipped through the double doors and back out into the narrow, white corridor. It was lit only by a few dim energy-saving glowfish in glass bowls attached to the walls in a neat, regular row above Retishella’s head.
Retishella looked behind her down the corridor but it was deserted. She turned and looked up the corridor, and there was Seeley, staring in through the porthole of a door and giggling madly.
“Seeley, there you are, I’m so glad I’ve found you” called Retishella. But Seeley did not answer to her name.
Retishella floated up to Seeley and took her gently by the arm. As she did she caught sight of the scene in the room that Seeley had found so amusing. It turned her hair and eyes brown as she swallowed back a feeling of nausea.
Through the port hole she could see a clinically clean, unnaturally white laboratory lined with around half a dozen black chairs, like those you see at the dentist. In each chair was an adult grantuff, held still by thick black ropes of strong seaweed she didn’t recognise. Every grantuff had a tube going into the gills on its neck and another from its ear to a seestone monitor on a table by the side of the chair. There were wires attached to its tail and flippers that were linked to another monitor that buzzed every so often and made the grantuff wince with pain.
“Shocking!” murmured Retishella under her breath. It was then that she noticed another, more dreadful detail. She looked into the eyes of the grantuff strapped into the chair opposite the door. Expecting to see two round, black, animated jewels she found instead a dull stare of despair, the look of a creature that has decided it is better to die.
Retishella pulled at the door, not knowing what she could do to help, but just feeling she must try. It was no use, it was locked. One of the creatures, hearing the rattle of the door handle, looked up. For a moment there was a glimmer of hope in its eyes as it spotted Retishella. It gathered up all its strength and with a huge effort and a roar of pain pushed itself out of the chair, ripping the tubes and wires out of its body with a gush of blue blood. An alarm sounded in the room as it half floated, half swam towards the door and after several tries lifted its head to the port hole.
A gut-wrenching cry of misery sent a stream of blood-soaked bubbles whirling around the room. At the far end of the laboratory a door opened and several mermen in white coats bustled through armed with stun jelly fish and strong golden plagoweed nets. They surrounded the struggling grantuff and dragged it away from the door.
A giggle from Seeley reminded Retishella that the others would be waiting for them. She grabbed her sister and ducked back into the cafeteria. Breathless with horror at the things she had just seen, she shook the flashes of blue out of her hair and resolved to find out more later on.